Riyadh blames pilgrims for stampede

Saudi Arabia has blamed unruly pilgrims for the crush that killed 362 people in the Hajj, but many Muslims said better security could have averted the worst disaster to hit the ritual in 16 years.

    Saudi officials say 100 Egyptians were among those killed

    The pilgrims were crushed on the last day of the Hajj at the disaster-prone al-Jamarat bridge in Mina, a narrow valley near Makka, as they jostled to perform a stoning ritual in the early afternoon. 

    Saudi Arabia hosts about 2.5 million Hajj pilgrims from all over the world every year.

    Grand Mufti Shaikh Abd al-Aziz al-Shaikh, the kingdom's most senior cleric, said on state television: "The state has made every effort and done everything it should."

    He accused pilgrims of being disorderly.

    Defying rules

    Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz, the crown prince, also blamed pilgrims who defied the rules and carried their belongings with them and ignored advice to perform the ritual throughout the day. 

    Saudi Arabia's leading cleric said
    the state had done its best

    The official Saudi Press Agency quoted Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz, the interior minister, as saying: "It pains us that so many people died, but we must point out that the security forces averted many more disasters from happening and saved many lives."

    Khaled al-Mirghalani, a health ministry spokesman, put the toll at 362, up from 345 announced on Thursday.

    He said 45 out of the 289 people initially sent to hospital, remained warded.

    Husain Salih Bahashwan, deputy director at al-Muaysim mortuary, just outside Mina, said 100 Egyptians had died.

    Khalid Yasin, director of evacuation operations at the health ministry, said "most of the dead are Egyptians" and that the toll included Africans, Saudis and pilgrims from several Asian countries.

    India said at least 27 of its citizens were killed in the crush. Indonesia reported that two of its pilgrims had died and Pakistan said it knew of six fatalities.

    Following the prophet

    Many pilgrims follow the Prophet Muhammad's example of stoning after noon prayers instead of staggering the ritual throughout the day as some clerics recommend.

    Saudi clerics have in the past advised stoning after noon. 

    But some pilgrims said the authorities had failed to impose their own rules on the ritual, at which there had been similar deadly stampedes in the past. 

    Jihad, a 28-year-old pilgrim from Egypt, said the high security was not very effective.

    "There seemed to be more security forces this year but they were not very organised or had any plan," he said.

    Squatters

    Yasir Bakir, 39, another Egyptian pilgrim, said security forces should have concentrated their efforts on removing squatters.

    "This year, they seemed to let them slide by," he said.

    Witnesses said pilgrims ignored 
    instructions on the flow of traffic

    Witnesses also said the deaths were caused as the flow of pilgrims entering and leaving al-Jamarat bridge clashed, and people ignored instructions on huge notice boards, loudspeakers and pamphlets on how to perform the rite.

    Raqiya Shabib, a columnist for the Saudi-owned Al-Hayat newspaper, wrote: "'What's the reason for what happened?' that's the question that must be answered.

    "For this not to happen again the organisation has got to be
    rethought at the Jamarat area in particular." 

    The Interior Ministry said before the five-day Hajj - a duty for every Muslim who is able, at least once - that it would stop pilgrims squatting with their belongings by the side of al-Jamarat bridge. 

    Officials say that about 300,000 Muslims who are already resident in Saudi Arabia slip into the Makka area to join the
    two million pilgrims from overseas, taking part. 

    This year's Hajj had already been marred by the collapse of a Makka hostel that killed 76 people last week. 

    In 2004, about 250 pilgrims were crushed to death at al-Jamarat bridge. A decade earlier, 270 were killed in a similar stampede.

    Thursday's toll was the highest since 1426 people were killed in a stampede in a tunnel in Makka in 1990. 

    SOURCE: Agencies


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